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16/03/2020

Local plans are not the best route to large-scale development

Comprehending the nature of development in development planning is essential to delivery, says Gary Duncan.

‘Planning’ is concerned with everything from climate change to bricks and windows. It wants better and beautiful. Planning is adaptive and conservative, process-led and complex.

Processes, matters and questions reveal a debate about development control. Unprecedented scale is challenging the plan-making and examination processes. The time may be to recognise the limits of what planning can do; to conceive of delivery in development, not process, terms. And the need for effective instruments and mechanisms.

We talk of the development plan. What happened to ‘development’ planning? A top practitioner in 1985 lamented the critical failure to comprehend the nature of ‘development’ in development planning. Planning is a small component of the development process, not the other way around. But I see a tension centring on how the control of delivery squares with policy planning.

Delivery means investment and risk. Large-scale and longer-term decisions need an appropriate professional space where commitments are made and followed through. Yet is the current forum – the examination in public – appropriate in its channelling of complex evidence through the mind of one or two individuals?

“It seems we want scale without a structure plan, without a regional plan”

If local planning/delivery is configured on a 15-year horizon, is it reasonable for one person to determine the commitments for 40 years based on sound bites and cross-references?

Consider the inspector considering soundness and delivery commitments to 2080. Can you stretch ‘local’ planning over that time frame and make it cope with a scale of aspiration appropriate to an upper tier and with guaranteed funding? It seems we want scale without a structure plan, without a regional plan. These may be outmoded terms, but 50,000 homes in a local plan?

I’m proud to have been associated with some of the largest projects in Essex and Hertfordshire; ‘will’ and ‘stability’ have been vital factors in creating fantastic places: Great Notley was a garden village long before the genre’s rebirth.

But managing infrastructure procurement financially and across several agencies with different legislation and through funding bids is difficult. A development corporation has its place in planning, but proven methods of delivery remain. Comprehending the nature of development in development planning is essential to delivery. But delivering large-scale development over many decades seems to be testing the local plan process as we know it.

Gary Duncan MRTPI is founder/director of The Land and Planning Company

Image credit | iStock

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